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Contact Mary Cerullo: mcerullo [at] cascobay [dot] org or (207) 799-8574. Topics include:

The Health of Casco Bay: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Friends of Casco Bay works year-round on threats to clean water, such as sewage overflows, oil spills, and ocean acidification, as well as green slime, red tides, and dead zones triggered by nitrogen pollution from fertilizers and stormwater runoff. Get an update on the health of our coastal waters and learn how Casco Bay is changing.

 

Save the Steamers! How coastal acidification is killing our clams

Why are shellfish disappearing in parts of Casco Bay where they were once plentiful? Some clam flats are becoming more acidic, clammers can no longer find clams in traditional harvesting areas, and aquaculturists are seeing seed clams dissolve. What’s up with that?

 

Casco Bay Begins in Your Backyard: How to have a green yard and a blue bay

After finding pesticides and fertilizers flowing into the Bay, Friends of Casco Bay launched BayScaping, a lawn care program that doesn’t rely on toxic chemicals. Find out why our ocean-based organization is working with neighboring communities to limit or stop their use of pesticides and fertilizers on land.

 

Fighting Plastic Pollution

Most of are aware that plastic products can harm seabirds, dolphins, whales, and sea turtles, when they mistake plastic bags for food or become entangled in fishing gear. Now people are learning that the smallest form of plastics—microbeads—are having an unexpected impact. Microbeads can be found in shaving cream, facial scrubs, and cosmetics. They are so tiny that when they wash down the drain, they can go right through our wastewater treatment plants and into streams and rivers, and end up in our coastal waters. Microbeads absorb toxic chemicals and are ingested by shellfish, causing a health risk to humans. What can be done to stop plastic pollution? Lots!

 

Nabbing Nitrogen: Help Us Test the Health of the Bay

If you’d like to be a citizen scientist for a day, join us for an hour on the morning of Sunday, July 10, 2016. We plan to mobilize volunteers to help us learn more about nitrogen levels in Casco Bay. Volunteers will collect water samples at sites around Portland Harbor and bring them to designated collection sites to be sent to a lab for analysis. We will use this day of action—and the results—to educate people about Nitrogen Pollution, help the Maine Department of Environmental Protection collect valuable data, and shine the public spotlight on an issue too few understand. Find out how you can help!

 

Cover photo by: Dennis Welsh

Five things you need to know to be a great Friend to Casco Bay

 

1.) Did you know that what we put on our lawns is showing up in Casco Bay?

In the summer of 2005, Mike Doan, Research Associate at Friends of Casco Bay, opened an envelope and gasped.  Before him appeared a table of laboratory numbers, an analysis of a sample of stormwater Mike had collected a month earlier, from the end of a pipe in Back Cove.  The readings for 2,4-D, a primary component in weed and feed products, were at the highest levels he’d seen yet in stormwater samples.  This herbicide has been classified by the World Health Organization as a possible carcinogen.

The sampling was part of our work in BayScaping, our effort to document that lawn chemicals are going into Casco Bay and to educate residents about strategies for achieving a chem-free lawn. Between 2001 and 2009, we collected rain water flowing into the Bay and analyzed the samples for a suite of pesticides. Lab results identified 7 different pesticides in 13 locations all around the Bay.

Now several municipalities are considering ordinances to restrict or ban pesticides and fertilizers. We are sharing our data and point out that fertilizers are of equal concern.

 

2.) Do you know why it shucks to be a clam?

When it rains, nitrogen-laden fertilizers are swept into Maine’s nearshore waters. This nitrogen pollution triggers algae blooms that release carbon dioxide when they die and decay. In seawater, carbon dioxide forms an acid. Acidification changes the chemistry of the water, inhibits shell growth in clams, mussels, oysters and other marine organisms, and is suspected as a cause of reproductive disorders in some fish.

We are encouraging communities to consider banning high-nitrogen fertilizers and weed and feed products, which contain both pesticides and fertilizers. Limiting or eliminating the use of fertilizers locally will lower the amount of nitrogen coming in to Casco Bay; this can help slow the devastating effects acidification is having on our marine resources. We are also working on several other projects to reduce nitrogen pollution from sewage discharges and stormwater runoff.

 

3.) Did you know that discarded hypodermic needles are regularly found on our beaches and marshes?

“Yipes! Here’s another needle!” That is a shout we frequently hear at our beach cleanups. Citizen Stewards Coordinator Peter Milholland rushes over, warning the volunteers not to pick up the discarded hypodermic needles. He uses rubber gloves and tongs to dislodge the needles from the sand or salt marsh. He places them a Sharps disposal kit—basically a plastic box that can hold medical waste—to drop off later at a safe disposal site.

Even though insulin users may use sharps several times a day, the only officially recommended way that residents can dispose of them is to place them in a rigid container, such as a liquid laundry soap container, and toss them in the garbage. When these containers end up in a landfill, they may break open and spill their contents. Many users simply flush them down the toilet. When it rains, overflows of the sewage treatment system can wash the needles into the Bay.

If you should find a sharp, do NOT pick up it up. Notify local police to come pick it up. Should you be pricked by a needle, call the Maine Center for Disease Control at 1-800-821-5821.

 

4.) Did you know that microbeads are a megaproblem?

Those tiny granules in acne scrubs, moisturizing cleansers, whitening toothpastes, and wrinkle creams wash down the drain and may end up in our waterways. Researchers have found that ocean filter feeders such as mussels and oysters ingest these tiny pellets, passing them all the way up the food chain to humans. Last spring, Friends of Casco Bay, along with concerned citizens, other environmental and health organizations, and even industry representatives, successfully persuaded the Maine Legislature to pass a state law to phase out microbeads.

President Obama recently signed into law a federal ban on microbeads! Emma Halas-O’Connor of the Environmental Health Strategy Center observed, “Congress never could have passed this ban had it not been for individual states passing their own legislation, which put tremendous pressure on the industry to change, and creating the right conditions for a national ban.”

 

5.) Did you know that populations of blue mussels in Casco Bay are hanging by a thread?

Blue mussels, besides being a delicious and economical seafood for humans, provide a rich habitat for other bottom dwellers. Dense mussel beds also can dampen wave action and buffer the shorefront against storm surges.

Friends of Casco Bay Board member Ann Thayer wanted to verify anecdotal accounts that mussel beds, once so common in Casco Bay, have all but disappeared. Ann offered to head up a volunteer effort to survey the Bay. Over the past two summers, she and her team covered more than 25 areas between Portland and Harpswell. They discovered juvenile mussels on mooring ropes, wharf pilings, and floating docks.  They found far fewer thriving on the ocean floor.

Friends of Casco Bay's BayScaper Sign

Putting Your Lawn to Bed: Autumn BayScaping Tips

Following these easy steps will ensure you have a healthy lawn without using toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

  • Friends of Casco Bay's BayScaper Sign
    Pick up a BayScaper sign and you can be ready for the growing season! We have these signs at our office, 43 Slocum Drive in South Portland.

    Lower lawn mower height: Your normal grass height of 3½ to 4 inches needs to be reduced gradually to 1½ to 2 inches. Reduce the height by ½-inch every two weeks. Lowering grass height takes some of the effort out of leaf raking and makes the grass more resistant to snow mold disease.

  • Rake leaves, leave grass clippings: Most lawns over ten years old do not need fertilizers, if you leave the clippings. The clippings provide a source of slow-release nitrogen and adequate phosphorus for your lawn. However, once the leaves fall, mulch or rake leaves from the lawn as soon as possible.
  • Aerate: Aeration involves perforating the soil with small holes so that air, water, and nutrients can penetrate the grass roots. Ask at your garden center or hardware store about renting an aerator or hiring a service.
  • Overseed: Seeding over freshly-aerated turf is feasible right up to the end of the growing season. Just be sure to water thoroughly.
BayScaper Sign in Garden

Lawn Enforcement

BayScaper Sign in Garden
If you use lawn care practices that eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers, please come by our office on the Southern Maine Community College Campus to get our new BayScaper sign.

Last week we received an email from a summer resident on Little Diamond Island who asked, “Is there any information Friends of Casco Bay can provide that I could share with islanders about the potential harm from using the weed killer Round Up?” This may seem like strange question to ask a marine conservation organization. But for the past 15 years we have been advocating for lawn care practices that reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers.

Our water quality sampling shows that heavy rains can flush pesticides into Casco Bay. Even more concerning is the impact of nitrogen – from fertilizers, as well as from sewage and air pollution. Too much nitrogen leads to more acidic water, lower oxygen levels, and slime-covered coves, all threats to marine life such as clams and mussels. Weed and feed products, some of the most widely-used lawn chemicals, are a combination of pesticides (“weed”) and fertilizers (“feed”).

Several communities are considering a range of actions to get residents to reduce their use of lawn chemicals. What is the best approach?  Education? Enforcement? Or both?

Ogunquit was the first town in the nation where voters banned pesticides on private property, as well as public. Other communities are considering similar restraints. Fortunately for Maine, we are one of nine states and the District of Columbia that still allows municipal voters to decide this issue. Elsewhere, chemical company lobbyists have convinced legislatures to take away local control.

In South Portland, a citizens’ group called Bees, Bays, and Backyards has lobbied for an ordinance to ban the use of pesticides. On July 13, City Manager Jim Gailey presented South Portland City Councilors with several examples of pesticide ordinances to solicit feedback. More than 70 concerned citizens spoke both for and against strict regulations.

Friends’ Associate Director Mary Cerullo urged the City Council to broaden the ordinance to include restricting the use of another lawn chemical – fertilizer. After nearly three hours of discussion, the City Council directed City Staff to draft language that would restrict pesticides on both public property and private residences. A draft ordinance will be presented in November.

The Town of Harpswell, at the other end of Casco Bay, is comprised of narrow peninsulas with over 200 miles of coastline. Every part of town is close to the water. Rather than implementing an outright ban on pesticides, in 2004, the town banned Insect Growth Regulators (diflubenzuron and tebufenozide), insecticides that adversely affect aquatic invertebrates, especially molting lobsters and crabs. This ban was in response to spraying to eradicate the browntail moth caterpillar, whose toxic hairs can cause blistery rashes and respiratory distress.

In the summer, the focus is on “green garden practices” such as BayScaping, which teaches natural yard care practices that don’t rely on the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They are educating residents about Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and their right to be notified before a pesticide is applied in the neighborhood.

Whatever approach communities choose, it is part of a trend to find local solutions to global challenges.

FOCB bayscaper_print

Lawns Are to Blame for Much of the Nitrogen and Toxic Chemicals in the Bay

Joe’s footprints in green slime at a cove in Falmouth

Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne received a panicked call from a member of Friends of Casco Bay who lived on a cove in Falmouth. He asked Joe to discover the polluter whose actions had turned his scenic inlet bright green. When Joe walked out onto the flat to investigate, his boots sank four inches into green slime. He observed that the member had recently installed a culvert under the driveway that channelled rainwater runoff directly into the cove. He turned to his worried friend and said, “You did this.” The culvert was collecting runoff from fertilized yards in the neighborhood, stimulating a lush growth of green algae across the entire cove.

Friends of Casco Bay’s stormwater monitoring reveals that this neighborhood is not the only one over-fertilizing the Bay. We have found nitrogen and lawn care pesticides in waters around Casco Bay.

Because our advocacy is grounded in science, we worked in conjunction with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control to collected water samples around Casco Bay. Chemicals we found are shown on this map.

When Friends of Casco Bay tested stormwater for pesticides in a South Portland waterfront neighborhood, we found Diazinon and 2,4D, a component of weed and feed products. This prompted further testing at every coastal community around Casco Bay. We detected more pesticides flowing into the Bay in stormwater. Our findings inspired our BayScaping program, which teaches residents how to reduce their use of lawn chemicals.

Pesticides and fertilizers can harm marine life, as well as children and pets. But the good news is there are simple ways you can grow a green lawn that keeps Casco Bay blue.

BayScaping will save you time, save you money, save your lawn, and save the Bay! Join your neighbors, and learn more at cascobay.org/bayscaping.

Read the next section of the report What Is Our Coastal Future?

Nitrogen—Can’t Live Without It, Can’t Live With Too Much of It

Click the Nitrogen Concentrations Map to see a larger version.

All living things need nitrogen to grow. Nitrogen stimulates the growth of plants—both on land and in the ocean. In the marine environment, nitrogen jumpstarts blooms of algae—seaweed and phytoplankton, the tiny plants that form the base of the ocean food chain and provide half the oxygen we breathe. But an overdose of nitrogen triggers excessive growth of nuisance, and even harmful, algae. As these plants decay, bacteria take oxygen out of the water and release carbon dioxide into our coastal waters.

The map below shows concentrations of nitrogen around the Bay. There is a very clear trend of decreasing nitrogen away from shore. This indicates that land-based sources are contributing excess nitrogen to our waters. The farther offshore, the better the water quality!

 

Read the next section of the report Where Does All This Nitrogen Pollution Come From?

The Report: A Changing Casco Bay

A Changing Casco Bay: The Bay Where You Work and Play Is at Risk

Learn How You Can Help Protect the Health of Casco Bay

For a full version of the report A Changing Casco Bay in PDF, please use this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_dTKz-k7OLmQzRlWGxFaXhwNGM/view?usp=sharing

Valued for its rich diversity of marine life, Casco Bay was designated an Estuary of National Significance by the federal government in 1990. A technical report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on environmental benchmarks found that Casco Bay had twice as many marine organisms as other temperate bays. Since 1989, Friends of Casco Bay has been working to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

The dots indicate work that Friends of Casco Bay volunteers and staff have done around the Bay over the past 25 years. Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

Report Sections

Click on any topic below to jump to that section.

What’s Beneath the Beautiful View?

It Takes a Community to Protect the Bay

How Healthy Is Casco Bay?

Trends in Water Quality

The Double Whammy—Climate Change and Nitrogen Pollution

Nitrogen—Can’t Live Without It, Can’t Live With Too Much of It

Where Does All This Nitrogen Pollution Come From?

It Shucks to Be a Clam

What Starts on Our Lawns Ends Up in Our Bay

What Is Our Coastal Future?

YOU Can Make a Difference

Anything but “Fresh”. . .

 

Casco Bay by the Numbers

236,483 = Number of residents living in the Casco Bay watershed, from Bethel to the Bay (2010)

1 in 5 = Number of Mainers living in the Casco Bay watershed

578 = Miles of shoreline around the Bay

200 = Approximate area of water in the Bay in square miles

785 = Islands and exposed ledges in the Bay

$628,143,000 = Value of ocean related activities on and around Casco Bay (2011)

 

Working Waterfront and Scenic Postcard

Casco Bay extends from Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth to Cape Small in Phippsburg, encompassing 13 coastal communities, including two of Maine’s largest cities, Portland and South Portland, and two of Maine’s newest towns, Long Island and Chebeague Island. The Casco Bay watershed collects water across a landscape of nearly 1,000 square miles, from 42 communities between Bethel and the coast.

Casco Bay is an estuary, where rivers and tides converge. Rivers add nutrients, tides deliver cold, oxygen-rich seawater, and relatively shallow depths provide protected habitat. These factors make our estuary the feeding, breeding, and nursery grounds for 850 species of marine life in Casco Bay, from microscopic plants to migrating pilot whales, and for 150 kinds of waterbirds that nest here.

The circulation of water around Casco Bay is affected by runoff from rivers and streams, tidal action, currents, winds, and geography. Many small rivers, including the Fore, Presumpscot, Harraseeket, Royal, and Cousins, empty directly into Casco Bay, but their collective volume cannot match the influence of the Kennebec River. Even though it is not in the Casco Bay watershed, we have detected runoff from the Kennebec at Halfway Rock, nearly nine nautical miles from where the river enters the ocean.

Casco Bay is both a working waterfront—a port of call for cruise ships, oil tankers, and bulk cargo transports—and a scenic postcard of historic forts, stalwart lighthouses, and secluded anchorages.

In the mid-1800s, tanneries, foundries, slaughterhouses, and shipyards crowded the Casco Bay waterfront. Later, power plants, filling stations, tank farms, and discharge pipes from industry and sewage treatment plants were added to the shoreline. Though many of these pollution sources have been removed, polluted runoff, overflows from sewage pipes en route to sewage treatment plants, boater sewage, the threat of oil spills, and the effects of climate change jeopardize the health of the Bay.

For over 23 years, staff and volunteers have been collecting data for Friends of Casco Bay, to give us a better understanding of the health of our coastal waters. This report focuses on nitrogen, oxygen, water clarity, pH, and pesticides, to create a comprehensive overview of the water quality of the Bay.

Read next section of the report What’s Beneath the Beautiful View?

Thank You to Our Volunteer Citizen Scientists

Thank You to Our Donors